This I Believe

Tom - Hangzhou, China
Entered on June 26, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65

I believe in the smiles of old people and kids. I think it is important to know that I write this from a city in China, the land of these smiles, where I am living.

I saw an old woman, thin and with glasses so thick that they blurred her eyes. She was moving along that busy sidewalk, small and frail as a basket of leaves, with her gray hair tied tightly back, depending on the bicycles to miss her, and they did.

I said Nehau, and slowed to let her focus and she smiled so broadly and looked right into me and kept smiling a smile bigger than a hug. I don’t usually know what is behind these smiles, the smiles of old people and kids. They say so much and contain such different context but hold the exact same message. It is strange how that can happen. Old people have seen so much. When she was a bit younger than me there were multitudes dying of starvation around her and life was more serious than I can imagine, and the political ferver required this as unquestioned.

Does she feel relief in my presence? Do I represent anything beyond the surprising similarity that is the soul of us all? I guess a smile can be a revelation of that under the layers of encumbered invention that we think ourselves into. The little kids haven’t been loaded up with that yet and the old people so many times have found a reason and a way to let go of it, and the true smile shows through.

There is also a man who I have seen a few times. He sits in the evenings on the street next to a rolling platform of a home made portable bed. I have learned to usually not let the truth of the unfortunate leak past the mechanics of seeing and into realization. I do this to be able to carry on a separate reality that fits my ability to cope at the time. Anyhow, I looked to see this time and I did and there he was, not to be ignored. He was thin and old and I had thought it to be his wife on the bed. He was in fact feeding a crippled and struggling young boy under those blankets. They were focused on the task and each other on that public street as though nothing else existed. He was hunched and silent and oh so tenderly fed that little bird from a bowl with wooden chopsticks one small piece at the time. In front was a small metal bowl for contribution. I rode past and pulled the chain tighter and tighter against that moment.

And stopped.

I turned around.

Then rode a silent weave through the traffic back to the nativity and found that I had the smile of the old woman to give.

What in who we are gives the stength to have the love that I saw between them and know that it is necessary to show the world the struggle of that love to get people to care? What must he have thought while making that bed? Where is the nick in heaven that leaves such things to exist?

The world and human life has horrors and strengths so casually I had never imagined. It is all out there and can’t be ignored, and it is, but for a smile. And sometimes that is all that one can do and sometimes it is every bit enough.